Rent-a-Cop

Denver's finest protect and serve, whether they're being paid by the city or the corner bar.

And the DPD has had its own trouble keeping track of moonlighting and overtime hours. Two years ago, when questions were raised about whether cops were calling in sick and then working off-duty jobs so that they could collect two paychecks at the same time, the DPD conducted an internal investigation. According to Denver Chief of Police Gerald Whitman, that investigation into so-called double dipping showed that most personal absences that coincided with off-duty shifts were justified. For instance, one officer had used sick time to tend to sick children and then worked a secondary gig later that night when his spouse was available to take over.

"The biggest issue is not being able to audit it through an automated computer system," Whitman says, noting that the department has tried several software programs to streamline tracking officers' hours into one database, but none of them has worked out. "That puts the burden right back on the police management to identify conflicts within the policy." How the DPD tallies on- and off-duty hours, along with overtime hours, to ensure that officers do not exceed the 64-hour weekly limit is one focus of a Denver City Auditor's report set for release on April 17. Whitman has seen the report, but says he can't discuss details prior to its release.

Whether to lift the 64-hour cap during the upcoming DNC is a decision that the chief has yet to make. But the city has already asked other metro-area municipalities to help out with law-enforcement duties during the convention.


Denver is one of only a handful of major cities across the country that allow police officers to moonlight at bars and clubs. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and New Orleans are among those that don't permit their police officers to work off-duty in such establishments (although New Orleans did until recently). St. Louis and Atlanta let cops work in bars; in Phoenix, they're only allowed to work in the bars' parking lots.

And Denver's policy is much looser than the policies of many municipalities in the metro area, including Aurora, Boulder, Littleton, Lakewood, Commerce City, Thornton and Arvada. Some of those cities allow officers to work off-duty at events, races and such businesses as banks and churches, but not in bars.

"We just feel like it's not a wise decision to have our people subjected to the types of things that would go on when they're working in an off-duty capacity at an establishment or an event where alcohol is being served," says Steve Davis, public information officer for the Lakewood Police Department. "I think it's too much of a liability for the officers and the department."

Even the Denver Sheriff Department is reluctant to allow its employees to work off-duty in bars. According to Captain Frank Gale, just 66 of Denver's 740 sheriff's deputies worked off-duty in uniform last year, mostly for traffic control at highway construction sites and as security at churches. Of the 66, only four deputies received permission to work in a bar, and all four worked at the same place.

"We have a policy that requires that you get approval first, just as a matter of practice," Gale says. "The undersheriff scrutinizes the applications by off-duty deputies who want to work in establishments that serve alcohol. When you are applying, you have to demonstrate there is not going to be a lot of conflict that surrounds working around alcohol." Off-duty officers need to recognize that their role as law-enforcement agents takes priority over their role as private employees when it comes to such matters as enforcing liquor-code violations, he notes.

Although DPD moonlighting hasn't created many headlines lately, many people — officers and bar owners alike — are reluctant to discuss the practice on the record, for fear of rocking the boat.

The DPD does have a few restrictions. According to the policy, off-duty cops aren't allowed to work at strip clubs because it "constitutes a threat to the status or dignity of the police as a professional occupation," which is much the same reasoning other cities use for keeping cops out of bars altogether. Nor are Denver police officers allowed to work off-duty at establishments facing public-nuisance cases, or that have been put on a restricted list. (The department won't release that restricted list because of what it calls "security" reasons.) A decade ago, for example, Denver police were prohibited from moonlighting at bars owned by Regas Christou, who owns the Church, Vinyl, the Funky Buddha and other clubs.

Mike Bertinelli, who owns LoDo's Club Bash, says he's had bad experiences with the police in other cities, but the Denver cops he's hired have been straight with him. "Over the years, there may have been one or two instances where we didn't have a proper fit and the police department gave us somebody different. Those officers down there — my experience is that they aren't willing to push anything under the rug," he says.

"Having that presence seems to help," he adds. "If somebody wants to challenge a security guard, even if it's not in their best interest, they may still pick a fight. But nobody wants to go to jail. It's the uniform."

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